A healthy relationship doesn't drag you down. It inspires you to be better. - Unknown
Once I was talking to a friend and she said something along the lines of ‘My life revolves around work, husband, kids and the usual routine and everything seems to be fine. But I don’t know if I’m happy with my life and I don’t even know any more what makes me happy. I seem to have lost myself.’
I replied with something like ‘Well, at least you know you’re happy in your family life.’ She said ‘Do I? I don’t know if I’m happy or if my family life is just reasonably good because there are no dramatic extremes’.
Leaving aside the conversation about general happiness and personal satisfaction, what are the telling signs of happiness and satisfaction in married life?
It’s very easy to get stuck in life routine and lose perspective on your marriage. At the end of the day, if there are no emotional dramas, bullying, abuse and so on, we must be happy. Or not? Maybe a bit of bullying and abuse is fine because other couples have that, too? It’s nice to be able to compare ourselves to other couples, but all couples try to come across as happy and no one walks around talking about problems. Sometimes we are such good liars that we convince ourselves that all is well although we have spent years in a marriage with the wrong person.
Noting that married couples are created for different reasons (yes, surprise here) – from more business-like partnership to passionate love through to arranged marriages. Also, obviously, we can only talk about long-term marriages, when the initial passion or the first motivators that kept the marriage going start dissolving.
Below are my two cents on signs of happy long-term married couples.
This is fundamental. I can forgive minor weakness and maybe even cheating (things happen), but I won’t forgive intentional cold-minded backstabbing or manipulation. For example, my partner not supporting me in front of family or gossiping behind my back about me. I will regard this as betrayal, literally. Here also comes violence of any kind including emotional or sexual violence. The last thing you want is to live with an enemy.
2. Open communication
How often and how much we communicate is individual. But we should be able to come home and tell our partner about our problems, feelings and fears. Without being laughed out, brushed away, ridiculed or criticized. And so that this information isn’t used against us later. We tell our partner about our work life, our friends and our worries.
3. Their opinion matters
We seek their advice or their opinion, for practical reasons, or just because. Maybe it’s just a conversation for the sake of talking things through – I often find my husband wants to think out loud and uses me as his sounding board.
4. Conflicts feel safe
Some people love throwing plates around and some never raise their voice – it hugely depends on preferences of both partners. But arguments and conflicts generally feel safe, you know that you will be heard without having to resort to any kind blackmail, manipulation or passive aggression. And you know that your partner won’t use these methods either.
5. Emotional and physical proximity
How much, and what kind of intimacy couples need is very individual. But happy couples usually have some sort of closeness: from hugging on the sofa together while watching movies to affectional physical touch or hug.
6. Enjoying having them around
It's not 'phew, they are gone, finally'. It's enjoying their presence even if they say and do nothing, just sit there. My husband loves playing chess quietly in the evening in a particular place in the house. It looks like it has nothing to do with me, but once he was gone for a week, and I really missed his silent figure in that corner of the house at a particular time.
7. We want to look good for them
Yes, I know the first passion was gone decades ago and how people dress at home is very much a habit and upbringing, but we still care enough to dress to impress our partner. This probably goes more for women, but a grumpy woman who totally stopped looking after herself, gained huge weight and generally doesn’t care about intimacy is one of the telling signs of a woman unhappy in a marriage. She might be happy in other areas of her life though.
8. Body language
This one is more obvious to onlookers, but a very telling sign. Happy couples don’t avoid physical contact, don’t hide emotions when together and look relaxed together. They laugh together and look at each other to see the reaction. There’s sparkle or warmth in the eyes. Fake happiness usually shows couples together with stony emotionless faces, or broad fake smiles, or showing off a hug with the lower parts of their bodies far apart – the way we hug colleagues. Who are they lying to? Probably themselves.
9. Laughing together
Once my husband and I spent ages choosing a shower curtain in a shop, had an emotional argument over it, and almost weren’t talking to each other when we got home. Then we realised that the curtain we bought was three times smaller than we needed and the size was printed on the package in bold print. We were so busy arguing that no one paid attention. We both fell on the floor and rolled laughing at our own stubbornness and stupidity.
10. Home feels safe
It feels like a safe cozy hiding place where we can be ourselves in a trusting environment. We rush home after work or after travel. We are happy to be home and see our partner.
The problem with people ignoring the early signs of relationship problems and staying in unhappy marriages is that these signs are never super obvious. Open communication and trust take years to establish. Ignore the first signs of manipulation or violence or conflict avoidance in the early years of marriage, and they will slowly escalate over the years.
The key word here is ‘slowly’. Because escalation of problems is reasonably slow and partners are busy raising kids, working, travelling and socializing, many choose to disregard the problems. Until the problems escalate into a huge pile of unresolved hurt feelings, hatred and disrespect. Plus, there’s the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ at play, too. We become so immersed in the every day reality of our marriage that we lose perspective. We don’t know what’s happening with other couples, all we hear is positive stories. So, what’s the norm, we wonder?
By that time partners won’t have enough energy, motivation and courage to change things – life is almost gone by, we are getting older, kids grew up and left home, and you are left in the same house with a stranger, or worse – a hostile stranger – who you neither respect nor trust. And you wonder how on earth did I end up like this?
A happy marriage is a selfless journey in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own. - Unknown